When William Levitt wanted to expand his vision of the suburban ideal for the middle class in the 1950s, he sent his agents to Bucks County, Pa., to buy local farms cheaply and quietly. There, he was able to build more than 17,300 homes across 22 square miles, with 21 elementary schools. Levitt envisioned his community would be the be-all, end-all for middle class white Americans looking to emmigrate from the urban core of Philadelphia.
In an article for CityLab, Jake Blumgart shows that vision is partly what destroyed it. Levitt famously refused to sell his homes to African Americans, which in part was a sign of the times. New York University professor Tom Surgue found roughly 120,000 homes were built in the Philly metro area between 1946 and 1953, but only 347 were open to African Americans. However, the lack of racial and socioeconomic diversity has caused the neighborhood to stagnate.
Levittown was the suburban vanguard in Bucks County. Later developments in areas like Yardley, New Hope, and Buckingham lured away the professional class. Levittown’s population fell from a peak of 72,000 to about 53,000 today.
Along with the slow but steady decline of middle-class work, new development still poses a persistent threat to the community. Columns of exurban McMansions march into the northern reaches of once-bucolic Bucks County, luring the upwardly mobile.
Levittown's median home sales price, according to Redfin, was $163,900 last year, making it very affordable compared to other Bucks County neighborhoods. But it's remained a desolate area where people seem to move out of, but others aren't moving in. Of the 22 elementary schools that started there, only one remains open. And Philadelphia hasn't had strong job growth to propel its lower income residents into lower-middle class neighborhoods like Levittown.